Illustrates the thesis that all communities can be ranged on a scale running from democracy to despotism. The two chief characteristics of despotism -- restricted respect and concentrated power -- are defined and illustrated. Two of the conditions which have historically promoted the growth of despotism are explained and exemplified. These are a slanted economic distribution and a strict control of the agencies of communication.
The end of World War II gave impetus to the "one-worlder movement." Sparked by the sense that nationalism engendered conflict, this movement for world government viewed nationhood as a relic made obsolete in an age of economic interdependence and rapid air transportation. The movement was marked by the release of films calling for world government, such as Man: One Family; We, the Peoples; Brotherhood of Man; and Our Shrinking World, and exposing the nature of fascist and authoritarian rule.
Despotism treats the idea of nationhood differently than most other educational films. It sees nations not as static entities but dynamically, moving towards democracy or despotism as conditions change. This outlook doesn't mesh well with old clichZ<caron>s about patriotism and democracy, because it doesn't necessarily see the American system as democracy's highest achievement.
Despotism offers a number of indicators by which the degree of democracy or despotism in a society can be measured, using a sliding, thermometer-like animated scale. According to an article in The New York Times (March 16, 1946), an advisory board of educators debated for eighteen months (at seventy-five conferences) over the definition of the terms "democracy" and "despotism," the titles of the two films released at the same time. Finally, a compromise was reached, resulting in the "respect scale" and the "power scale" that we see in Despotism.
So how does our own system measure up? The film becomes a little frightening as we consider where we stand with regard to indicators like economic distribution, concentration of land ownership, regressive taxation and centralized control of information. Draw your own conclusions.
Politics Political science Democracy Despotism Dictatorship Censorship Newspapers Rubber stamps Freedom of the press Communism Germany (Nazi) Third Reich Students Teachers Political Indoctrination Propaganda Mass communications Animation Graphic design Cartoons Animation Scales (sliding) Information (visual) Surrealism Capitalism Economics
[Despotism. An Erpi Classroom Film. Produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, Inc. in collaboration with Harold D. Lasswell, Ph.D., Yale University. Copyright MCMXLV by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films Inc. All rights reserved. main titles graphic design art cards]
You can roughly locate any community in the world somewhere along a scale running all the way from democracy to despotism. One at the democracy end, another somewhere in the middle, and a third (inaudible). [rotating globes rulers animation graphs charts measurement quantification scales measures points pointers]
Let's find out about despotism. This man makes it his job to study these things. "Well for one thing, avoid the comfortable idea that the mere form of government can of itself safeguard a nation against despotism. [maps charts wallcharts professors academics commentators authorities]
Germany under President Hindenburg was a republic. And yet in this republic an aggressive despotism took root and flourished under Adolf Hitler. [maps flags art cards swastikas animation James Brill narrators]
When a competent observer looks for signs of despotism in a community, he looks beyond fine words and noble phrases." ". . . for which it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all." [saluting flag pledge of allegiance flags hands over hearts lynchings hangings gallows capital punishment condemnation death murder ropes nooses]
"Many observers have found that two workable yardsticks help in discovering how near a community is to despotism. The respect scale and the power scale. [goal variables charts graphs posters pointing fingers]
A careful observer can use a respect scale to find how many citizens get an even break. As a community moves towards despotism, respect is restricted to fewer people. [shared fairness equality]
A community is low on a respect scale if common courtesy is withheld from large groups of people on account of their political attitudes; if people are rude to others because they think their wealth and position gives them that right, or because they don't like a man's race or his religion. [drugstores soda Palmer Pharmacy pharmacies prescriptions candy cosmetics Scarlet Stores pedestrians people walking sidewalks storm troopers goons fascists military uniforms SA men SS men brownshirts brown shirts Nazis Sam Browne belts leather boots spectators Good Germans Jewish people Jews anti-Semitism antisemitism racism prejudice bigotry private doors offices bosses employers management class chauvinism classism For a quiet, restful vacation. Camp Gentilhomme on the Lake. Reservation Blank. Gentlemen: Enclosed please find $ --- deposit for my party of: name, address, date of arrival, religion. We solicit Gentile patronage only. Are there any Hebrews in your party? Yes or no. I hereby swear that the above statements are true. Signed application blanks pencils pointing]
Equal opportunity for all citizens to develop useful skills is one basis for rating a community on a respect scale. The opportunity to develop useful skills is important but not enough. [schools colleges universities lawns trees graduates steps stairs mothers cap and gown mortarboards parental pride pictures snapshots photography parents diplomas]
The equally important opportunity to put skills to use is a further test on a respect scale. [newspapers jobs applications employment offices unemployment work lines employment agencies]
A power scale is another important yardstick of despotism. It gauges the citizen's share in making the community's decisions. Communities which concentrate decision making in a few hands rate low on a power scale and are moving towards despotism. Like France under the Bourbon kings, one of whom said, "The state - I am the state." [shared concentrated political power democracy equestrian statues horses statuary public art]
Today democracy can ebb away in communities whose citizens allow power to become concentrated in the hands of bosses. "What I say goes. See, I'm the law around here. Ha ha ha." [government buildings smoke fires political power Tammany Hall machines laughs laughing newspaper reporters press]
The test of despotic power is that it can disregard the will of the people. It rules without the consent of the governed. [Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776 booklets opening inserts printed pieces In Congress, the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.]
Look beyond the legal formalities of an election in measuring a community on the power scale to see if the ballot is really free. [fascists Nazis elections voting booths rigged storm troopers soldiers terrorism voters crosses hats uniforms Sam Browne belts hats control]
If the citizens can vote only the way they are told, a community approaches despotism.
When legislatures become ceremonial assemblies only, and have no real control over lawmaking, their community rates low on a power scale. "Sieg Heil. Sieg Heil." [Germany Third Reich Nazis Adolf Hitler swastikas ceremonies applause clapping newsreels salutes fascists fascism]
In a downright despotism, opposition is dangerous whether the despotism is official or whether it is unofficial. [signs fences concentration camps Camp 33 for Political Offenders political prisoners prisons prison camps hoods hanging nooses ropes executions deaths capital punishment condemned people murder flames fires burning crosses Ku Klux Klan terrorism hoods racism]
"The spread of respect and power in a community is influenced by certain conditions which many observers measure by means of the economic distribution and information scales." [instrumental variables]
If a community's economic distribution becomes slanted, its middle income groups grow smaller and despotism stands a better chance to gain a foothold. [balanced distribution of wealth money affluence poverty]
Where land is privately owned, one sign of a poorly balanced economy is the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a very small number of people.
When farmers lose their farms they lose their independence. This one can stay on, but not as his own boss any more. To the extent that this condition exists throughout a nation, the likelihood of despotism is increased. [couples men women John J. Shea v. Walter Leeds. Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale. mortgages fingers pointing United States maps animation]
In communities which depend almost entirely on a single industry, such as a factory or mine, maintaining economic balance is a challenging problem. [company towns monopolies smokestacks factories animation]
If this condition exists over the nation as a whole, so that the control of jobs and business opportunities is in a few hands, despotism stands a good chance. Another sign of a poorly balanced economy is a taxation system that presses heaviest on those least able to pay. [animation money graphs wealth national revenue large incomes small incomes regressive taxation]
A larger part of a small income is spent on necessities such as food. Sales taxes on such necessities hit the small income harder. [pie charts pie graphs large income small income]
In the days of the salt tax, feudal despotisms were partly sustained by this and other (inaudible). [historical recreations Colonial North America taxation without representation]
A community rates low on an information scale when the press, radio, and other channels of communication are controlled by only a few people and when citizens have to accept what they are told. In communities of this kind, despotism stands a good chance. [uncontrolled media monopolies monopolization oligopolies Time Warner Disney ABC Capital Cities Westinghouse CBS NBC General Electric Fox News Corporation Turner CNN critical evaluation automatic acceptance]
See how a community trains its teachers. "Bear this in mind. Young people cannot be trusted to form their own opinions. This business about open-mindedness is nonsense. It's a waste of time trying to teach students to think for themselves. It's our job to tell 'em." [lecturers mental discipline drill classrooms agreement nodding heads manufacturing consent consensus]
And when teachers put such training into practice, despotism stands a good chance. These children are being taught to accept uncritically whatever they are told. Questions are not encouraged. [students conformity conditioning brainwashing writing learning education]
"How can you ask such a question? Have you got a textbook?" "Yes Ma'am." "Does it say here that our law courts are always just?" "Yes Ma'am." "Then how dare you question the fact? Sit down."
And so we aren't surprised when - "But it must be true. I saw it in this book right here."
And if books and newspapers and the radio are efficiently controlled, the people will read and accept exactly what the few in control want them to. Government censorship is one form of control. [Ministry of Propaganda plaques signs doors windows Internal Censorship censors rubber stamps passed by censor deletions blue pencils manuscripts]
A newspaper which breaks a government censorship rule can be suspended. It is also possible for newspapers and other forms of communication to be controlled by private interests. [The Daily Citizen press control proclamations This Newspaper is Suspended editors journalists newspaper offices Advertising Manager Mgr.]
"I thought I told you to kill that story. It'll cost us a lot of advertising." "If that story goes out, I quit." "All right." [firings]
What sort of community do you live in? Where would you place it on a democracy/despotism scale? To find out, you can rate it on a respect scale and a power scale. And to find out what way it is likely to go in the future, you can rate it on economic distribution and information scales. [cities wipes]
The lower your community rates on economic distribution and information scales, the lower it is likely to rate on respect and power scales and thus to approach despotism.
What happens in a single community is the problem of its own citizens, but it is also the problem of us all because as communities go, so goes the nation. [animation United States]
[Encyclopaedia Britannica Films Inc. Bring the World to the Classroom. end titles]